Bahrain. The king, Shaykh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, was reported in April to have pardoned 178 people accused of breaking the country’s security laws. Among the released were reportedly two Shiite opposition leaders, Imam Mohammed Maqdad and Hassan Mushaima, leader of the Haq Movement for Freedom and Democracy.
According to Countryaah, the country’s crown prince, Shaykh Salamn ibn Hamad Al Khalifa, in a debate article in the Washington Post newspaper called the Arab states in July to hold a dialogue with Israel: the other side takes the first step.
Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy in which the ruling family, that of the al-Khalifa, has reigned continuously since 1783. At the beginning of the last century it was the first Middle Eastern country to discover and exploit oil resources. Characteristic of the country is the high percentage of non-Bahraini resident citizens (54%), almost all of which are the workforce mostly from Southeast Asia.
Although Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni dynasty, the population is two-thirds of the Shia faith. This has historically posed a number of problems and undermined the stability of the country. The discrimination suffered by the Shiite community was at the root of the popular uprisings of 2011, which resulted in the request for the dismissal of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and, more generally, the opening of a democratization process. Although some reforms had already been implemented and the king had promised further openings, the riots have continued, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people in recent years. The repression of the Sunni regime was denounced by the major international NGOs and also on the basis of these complaints was instituted, in June 2011, an independent commission of inquiry that clarified the various cases of abuse and torture perpetrated by the police forces. Despite the promises of dialogue and greater democracy, the steps taken so far have been judged insufficient by the opposition which, for this reason, have abandoned the process of national reconciliation, prefiguring a picture of instability far from a peaceful resolution in the short term. Beyond the small size and the lower geostrategic projection of the country compared to other regional actors, the revolts have acquired a significant weight in the balance of the area. The fact that it was the only Arab monarchy in the Gulf to be involved in important street demonstrations risked destabilizing even larger and larger states, first of all Saudi Arabia. The latter, together with the UAE, sent troops to the island under the aegis of the GCC, to contribute to the repression. The initiative is linked to Riyadh’s fear that Iran, considered a potentially destabilizing force, will gain influence in the region by offering political support to the Shiite uprisings.
The economy is largely dependent on oil production and export, but the diversification taking place seems effective. Bahrain is an important center for regional and international finance and is increasingly developing tourism. Many investments have been focused on improving infrastructure and social well-being and have made Bahrain one of the countries with the highest level of human development in the region.
Of fundamental importance are the relations with the USA, whose V Fleet is hosted in the territorial waters. Washington, moreover, has taken a much more cautious attitude towards the rebels in Bahrain than the policy of supporting the rebels followed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Aside from the solid relationship with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain is improving bilateral relations with neighboring Qatar, after resolving some territorial disputes. On the other hand, relations with Iran remain tense, especially after the beheading of the Shiite cleric and Saudi political dissident Sheikh Nimr Bakr al-Nimr.
Al-Manama, the capital of Bahrain on the Persian Gulf; 157,500 residents (2010). The city is located on the northeast coast of the island of Bahrain and has for centuries been an important trading center. With oil discoveries in 1932, a rapid development was initiated with the construction of hotels, office properties, highways and a deep water port, which is now one of the Gulf’s most important. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for abbreviation BA which stands for the nation of Bahrain.
Al-Manama has developed into one of the Middle East’s most important trading and financial centers, including head offices for several major banks and oil companies. Bahrain is a relatively liberal country in the Gulf context, and the city is a holiday destination for Saudis in particular, who have easy access to it via the mainland embankment. The National Museum (1988) was designed by the Danish architects Svend Axelsson and Knud Holscher.
Since the mid-1990’s, there have been political riots in Bahrain from time to time, and al-Manama has repeatedly been the scene of demonstrations, riots and terrorist bombings.